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After Photography (Fred Ritchin)

End of Year Thoughts

"At the end of 2010 a few trends have become much clearer:

1. Books that use photographs are in a moment of renaissance, the awaited pushback against the digital-ephemeral and a new embrace of paper (reminiscent of painting's expansion as photography took center stage). Made with digital tools, these books, usually from small publishers, take risks that transcend the tired monographs with photographs centered and celebrated on white pages.

2. The digital - iPad, Web, cellphone, etc. - are still being utilized as exceedingly rudimentary display devices, showing a haphazard mix of image/text/sound that is often less than the sum of its parts. There is little sense of authenticity, of risk-taking, of graphics, of layout, of typography, of playing with scale and texture. Instead, the slide-show with sound has become the overused default - and it is hardly an advance over what was done decades before.

The word "magazine" comes from the Arabic/Hebrew word "mahsan," meaning warehouse, and it is as if we have returned to a pre-magazine era in which we are once again presenting a warehouse of media with little filtering or thought given to effective presentation.

3. Photography of news continues to evolve into a photography better done by amateurs than professionals, given that there are many more amateurs with cameras walking around at all times. The stylized imagery by professionals repeating the stereotypical news cliches is not helpful as a way of promoting understanding. The province of the professional in a journalistic context is very much the long-term essay, and many are working both in the old-fashioned and very necessary role of witness and others are trying to re-invent it to add complexity, nuance, and engage the reader in different ways. What is needed more than ever are thoughtful editors/curators who can help make sense of the visual overload.

4. We are entering a post-photographic age in the transformative sense - one in which photography has to significantly evolve in order to be useful. We are beginning to witness this transformation in a broader way, as many worldwide both interrogate and discard photography's set of older strategies while utilizing other media synergies to amplify the photograph's communicative potentials.

No photograph is automatically credible anymore beyond a local context, and this is both a challenge and wake-up call. Many photographers (broadly defined) now seem to be stimulated by the new potentials of the photograph and the discussion is finally beginning to evolve beyond the repetitive and plaintive "end of photojournalism" to a sense of multiple new beginnings in an increasingly open-source world. The next step will have to be a more vigorous search for meaning, as well as for collaboration". 

Text by Fred Richten

John Swarkowski


John Szarkowski, curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Photograph: Eamonn Mccabe

Was John Szarkowski the most influential person in 20th-century photography? via Sean O'Hagan, The Guardian

Is Photography Over?

Unknown Untitled [Man reflected in mirrors], n.d. Collection SFMOMA

A very interesting symposium at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art:

From SF MOMA Website:

"Photography has almost always been in crisis. In the beginning, the terms of this crisis were cast as dichotomies: is photography science or art? Nature or technology? Representation or truth? This questioning has intensified and become more complicated over the intervening years. At times, the issues have required a profound rethinking of what photography is, does, and means. This is one of those times. Given the nature of contemporary art practice, the condition of visual culture, the advent of new technologies, and many other factors, what is at stake today in seeing something as a photograph? What is the value of continuing to speak of photography as a specific practice or discipline? Is photography over?

SFMOMA has invited a range of major thinkers and practitioners to write brief responses to this question and then to convene for a two-day summit on the state of the medium. Participants include Vince Aletti, George Baker, Walead Beshty, Jennifer Blessing, Charlotte Cotton, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Geoff Dyer, Peter Galassi, Corey Keller, Douglas Nickel, Trevor Paglen, Blake Stimson, and Joel Snyder.

Their texts will be used to kick off a panel discussion Thursday night. The 13 participants will continue the conversation Friday morning in closed-door sessions and will report back in a public session Friday afternoon.

Read the participants' responses to the question here.

SFMOMA, Phyllis Wattis Theater
Thursday, April 22, 7:00 p.m.
Friday, April 23, 2:00 - 5:00 p.m."


This week SFMOMA hosted a major symposium on the current state of the field of photography, with two intensive panel discussions Thursday evening and Friday afternoon. Yesterday's reports are here. The initial texts from the symposium participants are here. Other blog posts addressing the question "Is Photography Over?" can be found here.


Afterall, a journal of art, context and enquiry

July 2013

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